Sunday, January 18, 2009

Brunching with Presidents Obama and Lincoln

Among other things, today’s blog looks at dull orange book covers, notes the appearance of Madeline on TV’s Antiques Roadshow, provides a list of titles about our future president and a past prez, and offers a dissenting opinion on a novel that just received a Mock Newbery Honor.


I just came across these recently-published copies of the 1922 and 1924 Newbery winners. Have you ever seen anything so dull or utilitarian in your life?

They were released by Kessinger Publishing, a company located near Montana’s Glacier National Park. According to Kessinger’s website, the company “utilizes advanced technology to publish and preserve thousands of rare, scarce, and out-of-print books.” I think that’s wonderful. Nobody is more concerned about preserving the history of children’s books than I am. But I’ve got to say that these bland covers are unlikely to attract many young readers. I know, “it’s what’s inside that counts,” but still...the only people I can imagine picking up this book are adult researchers.

I’m hoping that Kessinger makes enough money from these titles that they can someday afford to give them a makeover. How about a contest for kids to see who can draw the best cover? Not only would this entice kids to read the books (gotta read ‘em to know what to draw) but then the winning illustrations could then be printed on the covers of future editions of THE STORY OF MANKIND and THE DARK FRIGATE.


I’m always excited when children’s books turn up on PBS’s ANTIQUES ROADSHOW. Last night’s program featured a woman who brought in two original sketches by Ludwig Bemelmans and I was impressed when the appraiser, Stuart Whitehurst, rattled off several lines of text from MADELINE.

An illustration of a dachsund, done for NOODLE by Munro Leaf, was appraised at $5000. The other sketch, from MADELINE IN LONDON, was evaluated between $12,000 and $15,000!

I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to own an original sketch by Ludwig Bememans?”

And then I remembered: I do own one!

Okay, it’s not a full size color illustration from one of his best-known works. Instead, mine is an inscribed sketch in Bemelmans’ 1936 book THE GOLDEN BASKET, a title that few people remember today, although it was actually named a 1937 Newbery Honor Book.

On the half-title page of my copy, Bemelmans has inscribed the book “to my good friend Albert Wiss, the Swiss watchmaker, and drawn a picture of a watch whose chain connects with Wiss’s name.

Though the book was inscribed to him in December 1936, Mr. Wiss apparently turned right around and gave it away as a holiday present, as a note in the bottom left corner says “A.W. to A.J. Christmas 1936.”

Lucky A.J. to receive such a nice Christmas present.

And lucky P.D.S. to have such a treasure on his shelves 72 years later. It probably won’t get me on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, but this book still means a lot to me.


As mentioned, Ludwig Bemelmans got a 1937 Newbery Honor for writing THE GOLDEN BASKET and went on to win the 1954 Caldecott Award for illustrating MADELINE’S RESCUE. This got me wondering about other double-threat talents. Everyone knows that Robert Lawson is the only person to actually win both awards -- the Caldecott in 1941 for THEY WERE STRONG AND GOOD and the Newbery in 1945 for RABBIT HILL. He also had two Caldecott Honors (FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS, 1938; WEE GILLIS, 1939) and one Newbery Honor (THE GREAT WHEEL, 1958.)

But look at how many other creators have received both Newbery and Caldecott recognition over the years:

William Steig won the Caldecott in 1970 for SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE and had a 1976 Caldecott Honor with THE AMAZING BONE; he received two Newbery Honors for ABEL’S ISLAND (1977) and DR. DESOTO (1983.)

Another double-duty creator, Arnold Lobel won the 1981 Caldecott for FABLES and had Honors with FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS in 1971 and HILIDID’S NIGHT in 1972; meanwhile FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER garnered a Newbery Honor in 1973.

Tomie DePaola had a 1976 Caldecott Honor (STREGA NONA) and a 2000 Newbery Honor (26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE.)

Kevin Henkes won the 2005 Caldecott for KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON, and has a 1994 Caldecott Honor (OWEN) in addition to a 2004 Newbery Honor (OLIVE’S OCEAN.)

Laura Adams Armer won the 1932 Newbery for WATERLESS MOUNTAIN and received a 1939 Caldecott Honor for THE FOREST POOL.

Wanda Gag had two Newbery Honors (MILLIONS OF CATS, 1929; ABC BUNNY, 1934) and two Caldecott Honors (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, 1939; NOTHING AT ALL, 1942.) Classics all.

James Daughtery won the 1940 Newbery for DANIEL BOONE and had a 1939 Honor Book with ANDY AND THE LION and a 1957 Honor with GILLESPIE AND THE GUARDS.

Holling C. Holling had a pair of Newbery Honor Books (SEABIRD, 1949; MINN OF THE MISSISSIPPI) and one Caldecott Honor (PADDLE TO THE SEA, 1942.)

Mary and Conrad Buff won Newbery Honors for BIG TREE (1947), THE APPLE AND THE ARROW (1952) and MAGIC MAIZE (1954), in addition to a 1943 Caldecott Honor for DASH AND DART.

Marguerite de Angeli won the 1950 Newbery for DOOR IN THE WALL and had a 1957 Honor with BLACK FOX OF LORNE; she got Caldecott Honors for YONIE WONDERNOSE (1945) and BOOK OF NURSERY AND MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES (1945.)

Kate Seredy won the 1937 Newbery for WHITE STAG and had a pairof Newbery Honors with THE GOOD MASTER (19353) and THE SINGING TREE (1940). She also received a 1945 Caldecott Honor for THE CHRISTMAS ANNA ANGEL.

William Pene du Bois won the 1948 Newbery for THE 21 BALLOONS and received a Caldecott Honor in 1952 for BEAR PARTY and again in 1957 for LION.

Dorothy Lathrop won the 1938 Caldecott Medal with ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE but also had a 1932 Newbery Honor, THE FAIRY CIRCUS.

Have I missed any?


Since I frequently disagree with prevailing critical opinion on many children’s books, I am thinking of starting a column on this blog called “ROOM FOR DISSENT” or “THE CONTRARIAN” or perhaps “THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE.” Someone suggested I call it “CRANKY SON-OF-A-GUN,” but I thought that was rude. Particularly since they didn’t use the word “gun.” But the point is, since I don’t always agree with the titles that get starred in various publications or honored by prize committees, I probably should speak up since I have this forum.

Oakland’s Golden Gate Library is known for their annual Mock Newbery discussion. Last week they selected PORCUPINE YEAR by Louise Erdrich as their winner. I can’t comment on that one, since I haven’t read it yet. One of their Honor Books, ALVIN HO : ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS by Lenore Look is entertaining and funny and might do well when the actual awards are announced next Monday -- particularly in light of the recent criticism that the Newbery has received for not being “kid-friendly." The other Honor Book was AFTER TUPAC & D FOSTER by Jacqueline Woodson. If you’d like some insight into why these titles were selected as winners, you might like to visit School Library Journal’s Heavy Medal Blog . Realizing that it’s easier to sit here and throw darts at someone else’s winning slate than list and defend my own choices for the award, let me just say that I’m a bit perplexed by the inclusion of AFTER TUPAC, a novel about the friendship between two friends and a somewhat mysterious girl who visits their New York neighborhood. I’ll be totally honest and admit that some of my concern may partially come from my own uneasiness over the way the characters in the book, who adore the late rap singer Tupac Shakur, pretty much ignore his criminal behavior (“then February came and they sent Tupac to jail for some dumb stuff....” and later, when he’s on trial for sexually abusing a young women: “’No other evidence,’ Mama said. ‘But what that girl’s saying he did....’”) but then again, those are the characters’ beliefs and they’re entitled to them and the book cannot be judged by the characters' thoughts and opinions. Reading the novel, though, I can’t help but believe that this is a book that promises more in the opening chapters than it ultimately delivers. And while Jacqueline Woodson is acknowledged as a brilliant writer -- and there are some great things in this book, including the depiction of the friendship between the girls and a wondrous scene in a moonlit park -- there are also moments when I found the writing itself to be uncharacteristically odd or lazy. I’m still puzzling over a reference to “her green eyes like tiny mouths asking me all these questions....” Her eyes are mouths? Green mouths? And I’m bugged by the frequent use of the comparative phrase “as anything” ("I was shocked as anything," "her eyes wide as anything") instead of more appropriate or colorful similes.

So these are some of the reasons AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER would not appear on my own Mock Newbery list.

Have at me.


A friend sent me an announcement of a forthcoming title from Bloomsbury called OUR CHILDREN CAN SOAR: A CELEBRATION OF ROSA, BARACK, AND THE PIONEERS OF CHANGE. Written by the pseudonymous Michelle Cook, this book was inspired by a phrase often heard during Barack Obama’s campaign for president: "Rosa sat so Martin could walk; Martin walked so Barack could run; Barack ran so our children can fly."

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it will be illustrated by thirteen African American artists, ranging from Bryan Collier to James Ransome, E.B. Lewis, Pat Cummings, and the Dillons.

I was hoping to find a cover illustration to include here, but that image is not yet available. Now I’m wondering, considering all the great artists contributing to this volume, how they will even be able to decide which illustrator gets the cover!


On Tuesday Barack Obama will take the oath of office as President of the United States. Over the past few months, several children’s books about the president-elect and his family have been published. Here are a few more due out in the coming few year:

BARACK OBAMA / Cammy Bourcier / Mason Crest / January 2009

OBAMA FAMILY TREE / Hal Marcovitz / Mason Crest / February 2009

OBAMA MANIA / Hal Marcovitz / Mason Crest / February 2009


BARACK OBAMA / Catherine Nichols / Child’s World / February 2009

BARACK OBAMA : PRESIDENTE DE ESTADOS UNIDOS /Roberta Edwards / Alfaguera / February 2009

OBAMA : THE HISTORIC JOURNEY : YOUNG READERS EDITION / New York Times, Jill Abramson, Bill Keller / Callaway / February 2006

PRESIDENT OBAMA AND A BIRTH OF NEW FREEDOM / Joseph Cummins / Collins / February 2009

BARACK OBAMA : “WE ARE ONE PEOPLE” / Michael Shulman / Enslow / March 2009

MICHELLE OBAMA : MOM-IN-CHIEF by Roberta Edwards / Grosset & Dunlap / March 2009

BARACK OBAMA : PRESIDENT FOR A NEW ERA / Marlene Targ Brill/ Lerner, May 2009

BARACK OBAMA : OUT OF MANY, ONE / Shana Corey / Random House / August 2009

BARACK OBAMA : AMERICA’S 44th PRESIDENT / Carole Marsh / Gallopade / November 2009

...also coming in 2009 are a Barack Obama coloring book by Gary Zaboly (Dover) and set of paper dolls featuring the Obama family by Tom Tierney (also published by Dover.)


Lately I’ve noticed quite a few biographies and storybooks about Abraham Lincoln being published, but I didn’t figure out till now that they are marking a special occasion: the two-hundredth anniversary of Lincoln's birth on February 12. Among the recent and forthcoming titles:

LINCOLN SHOT : A PRESIDENT’S LIFE REMEMBERED / Barry Denenberg / illustrated by Christopher Bing / Feiwel and Friends

THE LINCOLNS : A SCRAPBOOK OF ABRAHAM AND MARY / Candace Fleming / Schwartz and Wade

ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK : A TALL THIN TALL / Deborah Hopkinson / illustrated by John Hendrix / Schwartz and Wade

LINCOLN AND HIS BOYS / Rosemary Wells / illustrated by P.J. Lynch / Candlewick


MY BROTHER ABE : SALLY LINCOLN’S STORY / Harry Mazer / Simon and Schuster


MR. LINCOLN’S HIGH-TECH WAR / Thomas B. Allen and Roger McBride Allen / National Geographic Children’s Books

WHAT LINCOLN SAID / Sarah L. Thomson / illustrated by James E. Ransome / Collins

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a new novel from that excellent writer Harry Mazer, so I’m anxious to read his take on the young Abe Lincoln. And what about that graphic novel about Gettysburg? Sounds different and intriguing. Meanwhile, Candace Fleming’s THE LINCOLNS is already garnering award-talk.


Last evening I found an envelope the mailman had left behind the screen door. I opened it and discovered a special publishers’ folded box that advertised the 10th anniversary edition of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Printz Honor Book SPEAK and contained an advance reading copy of Ms. Anderson’s forthcoming novel WINTERGIRLS:

A friend had arranged to have this book SIGNED by Anderson (whose CHAINS is my current favorite for the 2009 Newbery) and mailed to me. I was thrilled because I knew nothing about WINTERGIRLS until I opened the box. What a thrill.

Hope the coming week is filled with thrills for everyone. Only eight days until the book awards are announced in Denver.

I'm as excited as anything.


Sherry said...

I'll join your dissent and raise you one. Actually, I haven't read the Tupac book, so I can't comment on it. But I thought Porcupine Year was boring. I'm rooting for The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, which means it probably won't win.

Monica Edinger said...

I recently ordered from amazon what I thought was a book by Alistair Cooke on Charlie Chaplin (subject of my current research). It turned out to be an essay published by Kessinger with the same sort of cover you show and I assumed it was some sort of print-on-demand operation. That is, when ordered, they print the book out, slap on one of those orange covers, and send it out. Or do you think they really keep actual copies of all those books on hand?

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Monica,

I guess they couldn't afford to have a warehouse full of printed books, but I still wish they could do a print-on-demand illustrated cover -- or even just an illustrated dustjacket to slap on the orange binding -- to make the volumes more visually appealing. Can you imagine an entire library of nothing but orange bindings? (It would be like having the entire collection of Penguin paperbacks!) Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. I appreciate it, as always.


Anonymous said...

One of these days you must come to New York to see our guestbooks. New York Public Library always made visiting authors and illustrators sign our guestbooks when they were here for events. The artists, however, would frequently compete to create the coolest little doodles in the margins. Imagine Sendak and Bemelmans duking it out. I should probably scan these puppies someday . . .